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The Mice Trap

By Yoginder Kandhari

As usual, Kashmir Valley was in a grip of a freezing cold wave in January 1995 too. Since any major success against militants had eluded us for quite a long time it made matters colder for us. Pressure to ‘perform’ was increasing from the higher echelons. In fact, troops took time to adjust to the new role of mounting sustained counter-insurgency (CI) operations after a period of protected employment on road opening duties on Srinagar-Leh road. Road opening has always been an extracting routine, physically as well as psychologically, affording very little freedom of action to rejuvenate the morale. Whole of the preceding month had been consumed in familiarizing with own area of responsibility. This area included Ganderbal town which has, till date, retained its notoriety as a hot bed of militancy. Since it was the first time troops stayed on in the Ganderbal area after road closure, intelligence compendium of the area was conspicuous by its absence. Our operational imperatives were thus self defining and establishing a responsive intelligence network was priority one task for us no matter how much pressure was built on us to ‘perform’.

We were located at Zakura and our area of responsibility extended much beyond Ganderbal.  Ganderbal town and area beyond was dominated by the Hizbul Majahideen(HM) cadres. However, area south of Ganderbal had a fair representation of almost all militant groups including the then newly surfaced Harkat- ul- Ansar. Al Umar was the dominant group in the villages located at the foot hills east of Srinagar-Leh road while HM dominated the area west of it.

Intelligence Inputs: Local connections helped us to establish an effective intelligence gathering mechanism. In retrospect, one feels satisfied that this network provided us real time and actionable intelligence many a times that lead us to a number of recoveries and successes during our stay in the area. It was on 20th January 95, while on a routine visit through the area, a young boy passed on a crumpled ball of paper to me. I immediately sensed that information channels had started opening up no matter what the status of the information would be. This piece of paper turned out to be a latter, written in Urdu, giving a detailed account about the militant group operative in village Bakra. It was written by a girl who appeared to be a victim of this very militant group. Surprisingly, drafting of the letter was so deliberate that it could match an intelligence summary produced by any competent combat headquarters. Details in the letter provided a wealth of information that helped us to plan and execute the intended operation in Bakra with precision.

Planning: A tactical lull was observed on 21st and 22nd January. This period was utilized to corroborate available information and to plan the operation in detail. During the planning stage, emphasis was laid on retention of surprise and rehearsals so as to ensure meticulous execution of the plan. A deception was also planned to outwit the militants. A source was tasked to create a hoax about a cordon operation, on 22 January, in a village adjacent to the targeted one. A young boy made an announcement from the public address system, of the village mosque, urging people to congregate as was the routine during all cordon and search operations. The trick, while passing off as a childish prank, had the intended effect of setting in required complacency in the people in general and the militant in particular.

Execution: Cordon and search of Bakra was planned for 23rd January. At sharp 4 a.m., I along with three JCOs and just 24 men moved out of camp stealthy to approach the village cross-country, carefully avoiding populated areas enroute. Moon lit up the whole area which appeared to be covered with a snow white blanket.  With white rooftops, Bakra stood out in the horizon. Establishing cordon was comparatively easy in the moon lit night. Wide gaps between the stops could easily be covered visually and by fire. There always lurked the danger of own movement being detected and consequent loss of surprise. Cordon was effectively established within an hour and we all waited for the day break. At about 7.30 a.m., an announcement was made from the village mosque telling people to congregate in the village school compound. To our surprise, people started trooping in quickly at the appointed place. I could feel the glitter in the eyes of our spotter who kept a close watch on people passing by him. He segregated five young men and whispered to me that all of them were confirmed militants. The deception plan seemed to have worked for militants had not expected an actual cordon operation just a day after the hoax.

As soon as these segregated people were taken for questioning, one out of them walked upto me. He identified himself as Moshin Khan and admitted that he was an Afghanistan trained militant. Fearing rough treatment, he was quick to bear his back to show us torches marks inflicted upon him by his local militant commander (now a very prominent counter insurgent). He was quick to handover his pistol and two magazines with 16 rounds of ammunition. He further confirmed that all the other four men, spotted by our spotter, were active and dreaded militants. Taking Moshin Khan away from the flock, all the four were questioned individually. First to break was Nikka. He led us inside the village mosque from where we recovered one hand grenade and a radio set. Nikka, barely sixteen year old, had participated in a number of actions against security forces. He bore a six inches long post- surgery scar on his abdomen. Nikka had been shot in the abdomen during an inter-militant group clash.

Gula was next to a break. He took us to a hut located on the periphery of the village. On his instance, we dug up the floor inside to recover an 84 mm motor shell, an IED activator, batteries, camping kit etc. This shell was possibly to be used as an IED at a later date. Thereafter, we concentrated on the fourth member of the gang, namely Hassan Raida. After a great deal of resistance he finally broke down to hand over his AK-47 Rifle, two magazines and 60 rounds of ammunition. He had hidden his weapon inside hay stacked in the mosque premises. The weapon had a round loaded in the chamber and was ready to be fired. He appeared to have held back his fire at the eleventh hour and strangely deciding to join the villagers for the identification parade.

Babloo, the last of the group, was the most difficult nut to crack. It took us quite a bit of effort to obtain his weapon. Finally, he too gave up and led us to a shop adjacent to the village mosque. We managed to recover two AK-47 rifles, 4 magazines and 164 rounds of ammunition from him.

This  operation led us to recovery of three AK -47 rifles with six magazines and 224 rounds of ammunition, one pistol with two magazines and sixteen rounds of ammunition, one live 84 mm motor shell one hand  grenade one radio set other IED detention kit and camping  equipment etc. It was huge haul by any estimates. Complete tactical group of five militants, of Al Umar outfit, was rounded up without a bullet being fired.  This operation was hailed by all and sundry including the locals of the area. Suddenly, pressure to perform vanished and an era of successes ushered in. Intelligence network, built so assiduously, started paying dividends.

As we were pulling out of Bakra, I could see all the five militants hurdled together in a vehicle like mice inside a trap. As these militants were driven past the village womenfolk they were showered mouths-full of abuses. In no time, these heroes were  relegated to the status of petting criminals.

Source: Kashmir Sentinel

  

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